Colorado Democrats Open Up The Gun Debate With 2 New Bill Proposals

State Capitol Preview
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado’s state Capitol building was quiet New Year’s Eve except for scattered tour groups, selfie-snapping visitors and a few staffers preparing for House members to return.

Colorado gun owners could soon be required to report within 48 hours if their firearm is lost or stolen or face a small penalty under a new bill expected to be introduced late Friday. Democratic backers say the goal is to educate gun owners to be more aware and responsible for their weapons.

Another soon to be introduced measure would make failure to store a gun safely against the law. 

These are the first gun proposals of the session from Democrats, who hold the majority in both chambers of the state legislature. Lawmakers had a robust debate in the last session over 2nd Amendment rights and public safety following the passage of the so-called ‘red flag’ gun law in 2019.

“The quicker law enforcement knows that a gun is missing, the easier it is for them to track the use of those weapons in a crime,” said Democratic Rep. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont, one of the main sponsors of the lost and stolen proposal.

Jaquez Lewis said nationally, 40 percent of firearms that are lost or stolen go unreported. Under her bill, the first offense would be a $25 fine.

The other proposed Democratic bill would require licensed firearms dealers to provide a locking device capable of securing any weapon sold or transferred or pay a $500 fine. Gun owners could also be charged if they don’t properly store their weapons. A gun must be stored in a secure container or have a locking device, and a child cannot have access to the key or combination. 

“The whole goal is to really change behavior, if there’s a gun in the house we want to create as safe an environment as we can so accidents don’t happen,” said Democratic Rep. Kyle Mullica of Northglenn, one of the main sponsors. “We’re not focused on trying to penalize people.” 

Dacono Republican Rep. Lori Saine disagrees on that last point.

“To penalize the victim is pretty novel and you can’t fix criminal behavior by penalizing the victim,” she said of both proposed measures. “It’s a step towards holding law-abiding gun owners liable for crimes they didn’t commit.” 

Saine considers the safe storage bill largely unenforceable and “another government intrusion that’s unnecessary.” She said what’s even more troubling is that it could lead to a situation where a gun owner couldn’t unlock the weapon in time for self-defense. 

There are areas of bipartisan agreement, however, especially centered around school violence, a topic that the state government has tried to address for years. The latest attempt began in the wake of the deadly May shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch.

Members of both political parties support a measure to add mental health as a reason for school absences. There’s also bipartisan support for a proposed change to the state’s Safe2Tell program, which allows youth to anonymously report concerns. A new bill would require the people who answer incoming calls to have mental health crisis training. Right now, members of law enforcement generally answer Safe2Tell calls. 

“We came together in a full bipartisan fashion and we worked together from that lens,” said Democratic Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, the chair of the school safety committee. 

The unveiling of the Democratic gun bills comes on the same day hundreds gathered at the state Capitol for a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense rally to call for stronger gun laws.